What your fingernails say about your health

Many women view their nails solely as parts to paint, grow and manicure. But how your nails look and act in their natural state can provide a big indicator of your overall health. Strong nails show you’re eating properly, while brittle nails may signal a nutrient or vitamin deficiency. Read on and find out what your fingernails say about your health.

woman's manicured hands

Healthy nails

If you envy your girlfriend for having long, strong nails, thank her parents. We inherit our nail strength, thickness and growth rate, which is why some of us always have short, brittle nails despite caring for them properly.

To understand all the components of nail health, you should know the parts of the nail:

  • Nail plate: the actual part of the nail you see
  • Nail bed: what’s underneath the nail plate
  • Nail folds: the skin underneath your nail on your finger
  • Nail cuticle: the thin tissue at the nail base
  • Nail matrix: this is the part of the nail under the skin that controls growth rate

Healthy nails are pinkish, says Better Health Victoria, and turn white when growing off the nail bed. Pink nails indicate your body has enough iron in its blood and good circulation. Long, strong nails show a healthy diet. Those who drink plenty of vitamin D-rich milk will usually have tough, fast-growing nails. Vitamin A is a component that promotes nail growth.

Nail colour

Nails can become discoloured from nail polish, medications like antibiotics, smoking and hair colouring agents. However, if nails on toes or fingers grow thick and funky-hued or start to separate from the nail bed, a fungal infection or psoriasis can be at work, says Dr. Rosemary Nixon of the Skin and Cancer Foundation Victoria. Treatment will vary.

Skin cancer can also show up on the nails in the form of a black or red growth, a black or brown streak in the nail that widens over time, a red or pink lump under the nail or warty bump on the side of the nail.

Lung, heart, liver, kidney and thyroid disease can also show up in nails.

Nail consistency

Ridged nail plates along the length or width of the nail can indicate fever or other illness, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis or lichen planus infection. It can also be due to ageing. Thickened nails on the fingers or toes can mean a fungal infection or psoriasis, says Better Health Victoria.

Nail plate and fold

Fungal infections can do lots of weird things to your nail plates, including thickening and crumbling, separation of the nail plate from the nail bed and flaking and pitting on the nail plate surface, according to Better Health Victoria. A common nail infection is called tinea. Lifted nail plates can also signal psoriasis. Problems can also occur along the folds of skin on your finger and spread to your nail. They include the bacterial infection Staphylococcus aureus, which can produce inflammation and pus without treatment.

Take care of those nails!

This video tells you how to create the perfect manicure and pedicure at home.

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